Written by Patseni Mauka
I got my first underwear very late in my childhood. It was so late I thought every misfortune I met was because I didn’t have underwear. I am sure I am not the only one of my generation who got this enviable development very late. Most people of my generation grew up in poverty. Having an underwear was a luxury. It was not a priority for cash-strapped parents. They had to prioritize bringing food on the table. Not underwear.
Each time I went to the Wednesday or Friday market days, my eyes were always set on stalls selling different kinds of underwear. Some complete with Diego Maradona photos printed on the front and back. We called these underwear ‘madiego’. The material was usually almost 100 percent polyester. One would have to be careful not to catch fire with such underwear, for polyester is highly inflammable. I would look at them admiringly and wonder when I would get my chance to wear them and show my friends that I had joined the club of ‘the civilization’ of wearing underwear.
Many market days went without papa buying me one. Then one day I had a stroke of luck. Papa told me that he would buy me two sets of underwear. I can’t remember whether this was a gift for passing exams or for being a good son but what I remember most is the feeling this brought. Words can’t express how excited I was. Finally, I had my chance to wear underwear. Friends would know that I wore underwear. Not just any other underwear, but complete with printed photos of the famous footballer, the Argentine, Diego Maradona. I had my own diegos.
One of the most important reasons I was happy was that I would be able to approach girls with confidence knowing that I wore underwear. Who can talk to a girl while not wearing underwear? It’s unthinkable, right? To cut a long story short, all the girls I thought would like me because of my diegos refused my proposals. I learnt that underwear didn’t improve my chances of getting a girlfriend. It was just a belief I had because of youth naivety. Because I got my underwear very late, I thought I would easily get girls approval. Poor I didn’t know that getting girls depends on many other factors.
Fast forward to many years later, I have noted that some people have not yet learnt that success depends on many factors. It’s not about one thing. This applies to many different aspects of life including politics. In Malawi, the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) is busy making the same mistake I made a few decades ago. Having been in power for almost five years without improving the livelihoods of Malawians, they think some small roads, upgrades of some tertiary education institutions and a few roundabouts will be enough to hoodwink Malawians into believing that it deserves another term in office.
With about five months to go before the next elections, DPP is desperate to show that they have done something with our taxes. A day doesn’t pass without seeing paid loyal blue painted cadets posting pictures of the same short road, a roundabout and old projects done by the late former President Bingu WA Mutharika. The attempts to make us believe they have achieved something are hilarious.
One of the projects being constantly posted on Facebook is the rehabilitation and construction of a dual carriageway from Bingu National Stadium in Area 49 to Parliament Building in Lilongwe. The road is just 4.6-kilometre. According to reports, it has been over a year since the construction of the road started.
The project is reportedly being financed by a 7 billion Kwacha loan obtained from NBS Bank by Roads Fund Administration (RFA). The facility will be repaid over five years using the fuel levy which is managed by RFA and is payable by coupons at the 91-day Treasury bill tenor. In short, it’s the Malawian tax payer footing the bill. It’s our fuel tax money. But according to DPP wisdom, such projects mean they are ‘actualizing an election landslide victory’ and we should say thank you to Peter Mutharika and DPP for ‘developing’ Malawi.
Another project that DPP has jumped to claim is the infrastructure development at Lilongwe University of Agriculture and Natural Resources (LUANAR). Most of the structures being built at LUANAR were funded by the Norwegian government after Malawi government requested for a grant in June, 2012. The agreement for financing was signed in 2014. Even if DPP wanted to claim this grant, it was not in charge of government in June 2012. It’s just an embarrassing attempt to show something.
The message DPP should get is that an average Malawian doesn’t care about last minute small projects designed to show something for the five years of DPP reign of mediocrity. What matters to the common man is how his life has been affected by DPP policies or lack thereof. Things that matter to the average person are the cost of living, access to high quality health services, access to good education and other things that affect daily survival.
While a little improved road infrastructure is helpful, a holistic approach to the improvement of livelihoods is what matters. What use is a roundabout if one can’t afford to buy fuel because businesses are not doing well? Of what use is a dual carriageway if low salaried civil servants can’t afford money for a minibus fare and have to walk to work every day?
Many people are dying of treatable illnesses in hospitals due to lack of proper medical equipment and regular medicines. Pregnant mothers and unborn babies are dying because of lack of proper medical facilities and equipment which can detect maternal problems earlier enough to prevent such deaths. A show off roundabout cannot help ease such problems.
Deserving students are dropping out of schools while the president spends millions of Kwachas to organize beer parties for youths and civil servants to buy votes. Primary school kids are learning under trees while billions of Kwachas are lost to corruption that spreads its tentacles right up to the presidency. The sad stories are many and these are the issues that matter most.
Since DPP came into government in 2014, the cost of living has risen by over 50 percent. In the same period Malawi has moved from sixth to third poorest country in the world and over 85 percent of Malawians believe the country is moving towards the wrong direction. These are the statistics that matter, not number of roundabouts.
Just like Malawian citizens share sad stories they face and see in their daily lives due to government incompetence, they would do the same if the stories of tragedy changed to stories of hope and prosperity. The government would not need to employ unpatriotic characters to convince the electorate that they have done wonders. Just like any good merchandise, good work would speak for itself.
If DPP believes a few taxpayer funded kilometers of double lanes, roundabouts and a little donor funded infrastructure development is enough to fool Malawians into thinking that’s the best a government can do in an entire period of five years, they will wake up surprised like I did when I got my first underwear.
Disclaimer: Views expressed in this article are not necessarily the views of the Publisher or the Editor of Maravi Post